Letter to the Editor

To the editor:

I write in response to the letter of complaint from Thomas G. Stemberg ’71 about the University’s handling of the recent cheating scandal.

Stemberg’s letter begins with the blunt statement that many of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences professors are “not qualified to teach undergraduates.” Though I lack specific knowledge of the workings of Harvard appointments, I am not convinced by a statement that fails to articulate in what respect these professors are unqualified.

Stemberg then calls the phrasing of the collaboration policy into question: “One was told that on this particular take home exam, one could not collaborate with professors, teaching fellows ‘and others.’ One would suppose this meant students. If the message was so clearly expressed, why did some of the teaching fellows go over the exam in open session, a per se violation of the professor’s seeming intent? If they did not get the message, could one expect the students to understand it?”

The exact phrasing of the policy read: “students may not discuss the exam with others – this includes resident tutors, writing centers, etc.” Yes, “others” includes students as well. The suggestion that what a teaching fellow cannot understand must be difficult for students to understand is offensive to those of us enjoying the benefits of literacy.

It is unfortunate that a teaching fellow would violate the policy, yet it does not license further academically dishonest behavior.

As the letter progresses, Stemberg distinguishes between students who were “literally cutting and pasting their answers” and students who were punished for using notes “derived in the collaborative atmosphere the class encouraged.” Whereas Stemberg seems only to find it appropriate to punish the former group, the appropriateness of punishing the second group depends on when the collaborative atmosphere existed, that is, whether it existed during the take-home exam.

The letter ends with the outrageous claim that, in Stemberg’s words, the administration “let off only those students who lied and said others had copied from them.” The claim is understandable given that the letter is grounded in a few personal accounts. From knowing students involved in the cheating scandal, I would want to assert that there were students found innocent without lying. Yet I cannot credibly assert that relying only on my partial understanding of the situation. Similarly, Stemberg’s letter loses credibility for its lack of proper access to crucial information, making his blanket statements about right and wrong forms of cheating all the more inappropriate.

While only admitting the wrongfulness of academic dishonesty in passing, Stemberg calls the FAS faculty’s competence into question without grounding and makes an effort to undermine the clarity of the collaboration policy. It is an unfair move to attempt to shift the responsibility away from those who were found, through what Stemberg himself calls “a seemingly endless judicial process,” to have engaged in academically dishonest behavior, to University staff who were offered no such arbitration.

Oliver C. Wenner ’14

Cambridge, Mass.

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